1 - 19 MARCH 1999

Introductory Statement


Ms. Angela E.V. King
Assistant Secretary-General
Special Adviser on Gender Issues
and Advancement of Women

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished Delegates,
Representatives of the NGO community,
Colleagues and Friends,

It is an honour and pleasure to welcome you to this session of the Commission on the Status of Women. May I extend a warm welcome to the many distinguished members of Governments and Cabinets attending our Commission, whose presence testifies to the importance that Member States accord the work of the Commission on the Status of Women.

I would like particularly to acknowledge you, Madam Chairperson. Your record of leadership at the Commission’s last session and your intersessional achievements, together with the ideas and energy of the other members of the Bureau makes me confident of success at this very important session.

I salute representatives of the NGO community. NGOs continue to devote significant attention to the advancement of women and an increasing number of NGO activities combine attention to a broad range of subject matters with the development of strategies for women’s empowerment, and to ensure they enjoy human rights. The involvement of non-governmental organizations is essential in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, especially as they can effectively reach women and girls at all levels and often have resources and the intellectual input required to have an immediate impact on problems.

I am honoured by the presence of Mr. Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. I have been encouraged by his constant support for gender issues and his emphasis on gender mainstreaming in the various economic and social sectors of our Department and of the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs which he convenes.

At this session, the Division’s capacity to support your work will be enhanced by the presence of Ms.Yakin Ertürk, the newly appointed Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome her warmly and introduce her to you. Many of you are familiar with her work as the former Director of INSTRAW. In this connection, I would like to thank those Member States who perceived the necessity of strengthening the Division for the Advancement of Women by up-grading the D-1 post to the D-2 level.


Madam Chairperson,

The new millennium presents us with a challenge to envision and create a world community based on equality of women and men. The most compelling issue emerging from our experience in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action is whether we will be able to challenge successfully old paradigms and institutions perpetuating gender discrimination, and to make gender equality a reality. This year, we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and I urge all Member States which have not yet ratified the Convention to do so. This will be their contribution to the goal of universal ratification by the year 2000 set by the Beijing Conference. I also call on Member States, especially those who are already working towards this goal, to lift their reservations on CEDAW and fully implement the Convention. Universal ratification and full implementation of the Convention is a critical step in setting the stage for a new century where gender equality, development and peace are hallmarks.

Madam Chairperson,

It is my privilege to introduce item 3 "Follow up on the Fourth World Conference on Women." With your kind permission, Madam Chairperson, as in previous sessions, I shall deal first with the last two critical areas of the Platform for Action. These appear under agenda item 3 (c) on implementation of strategic objectives and action on the critical areas of concern of the Platform for Action (document E/CN.6/1999/4). The report is entitled "Thematic issues before the Commission on the Status of Women". These thematic issues are: women and health and institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women.

Today, women live longer but do not necessarily have healthier lives. To our shame, nearly 600,000 women die each year from reproductive causes. In many countries, particularly in the rural areas, women still do not have access to adequate health care. They are more exposed than men to a variety of health hazards and occupational stress in the work place because of the nature of their work as unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Women are more vulnerable to communicable diseases: tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, for example. Their multiple roles as workers, mothers and housewives, their low nutritional status, restricted access to education and gainful employment, further exacerbate the situation. Depression, anxiety and stress are more prevalent among women: 30 per cent of mental disability in women is caused by depression compared to 13 per cent in men. Poverty and illiteracy also compromise women’s health, while gender-based violence is a critical health issue for women.

The Platform for Action establishes several targets in the context of women’s health. These include the goal of access to quality health services for every woman and girl in the world; a 50% reduction in the risk of maternal mortality as measured by 1990 levels, with a further reduction by the year 2015; accessible reproductive health care for all women of appropriate ages as soon as possible, and no later than the year 2015.

To contribute to the search for viable solutions to the health care challenges of the 21st century, an expert group meeting on "Women and Heath - Mainstreaming the Gender Perspective into the Health Sector" was organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women, in cooperation with the Government of Tunisia, WHO, UNFPA and the Commonwealth Secretariat. It was held in Tunis from 28 September to 2 October 1998. The Meeting focused on preparing a framework for designing national health policies with an integrated gender perspective. It also focused on areas not fully covered by the Platform for Action such as women’s mental, environmental and occupational health and health problems facing the growing cohort of elderly women and men. The framework appears in the annex to the report.

The second theme, national machineries for the advancement of women are critical in the implementation of 11 other critical areas of the Platform for Action as they provide the institutional base,

and accountability structure for achieving gender equality. Analysis of over hundred such machineries showed that the effectiveness of national machineries is linked both to other developments affecting gender at the national level and to the commitments made by Governments at Beijing.

At the Expert Group Meeting organized by DAW and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in cooperation with the Chilean Government, in Santiago on 31 August-4 September 1998, experts outlined three main roles for national machineries with regard to gender mainstreaming. They acted as catalysts, partners of civil society and as a part of monitoring to hold governments accountable at the national level.

Three of the recommendations in the report vindicate our ongoing analytical findings on national action plans. First, in order to ensure an efficient gender mainstreaming, national machineries should include or be linked to, an officially institutionalized unit to be located at the highest level of Government falling under the responsibility of the President, Prime Minister or Cabinet Minister. Second, national machineries should be provided with adequate human and financial resources. And third, where such machineries have strong links to civil society, they have a far better chance of lasting success.

In considering both the above critical areas of concern: "Women and health" and "National machineries for the advancement of women", urgent action is required. Governments, United Nations entities and civil society are stakeholders in promoting women’s health and strengthening national machineries. We hope that clear and proactive recommendations will result.

The Commission’s role here is to establish that women have different health needs than men do, that current gender inequities in medical research be recognized and eliminated, that research funding focuses on women’s needs as well as men’s, that women have equal access to health care and information and that policy makers and planners take these factors into account.

Madam Chairperson,

Another part of this item, the integrated report on follow up to and implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (E/CN.6/1999/2 and Add.) combines several related reports and enables the Commission to reflect comprehensively on the most recent activities of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council in regard to gender. The efforts of United Nations entities in implementing the Platform for Action, the work of the ACC Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality, the activities of non-governmental organizations and other institutions of civil society are also discussed. The Commission can also reflect on the review of the joint work plan of the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Also covered are the situation of Palestinian women and assistance provided by organizations of the United Nations system, and the situation of women and children under armed conflict. Addendum I to this report synthesizes the 20 most recently received national plans and strategies for implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the framework of last session’s report. This brings the total received to 105 countries, one observer and five regions. Regrettably, five additional plans were received after the report had been submitted.

May I express our appreciation and congratulations to the Member States concerned which have submitted plans, strategies and implementation assessments. These reports have given insights into the successes achieved and challenges that lie ahead.

The fifty-third session of the General Assembly and 1998 substantive session of ECOSOC clearly demonstrated that gender issues are high on agenda of both legislative bodies. The General Assembly emphasized the need to integrate a gender perspective into all operational activities and to mainstream gender considerations into follow-up to recent United Nations global conferences, as well as the importance of the role of NGOs in the implementation of the Platform for Action. Building on this, ECOSOC’s theme for the high level segment of its 1999 this year promises to be an exciting one. Its title is: "The role of employment and work in poverty eradication: the empowerment and advancement of women." We are working closely with the Office of the President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Fulci, the ILO and others to make it a successful one that will feed into the Commission’s next Preparatory Committee.

During the reporting period, innovative steps have been taken by United Nations departments, in close cooperation with DAW, to formulate gender-responsive policies and programmes. May I cite the very successful gender mainstreaming training in the Department for Political Affairs, the project in the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations on women in peace- keeping, as well as the Office of Internal Oversight Services’ efforts to build gender routinely into their evaluations. As Mr. Desai has pointed out, DESA has been active in mainstreaming a gender perspective in its programmes and outputs, including the Department’s flagship publications, such as The World Economic and Social Survey and The Report on the World Social Situation. Special attention is also paid to ensure that a gender perspective is reflected in the work of the United Nations Development Group, especially at the country level.

With regard to women and decision-making, there is a separate report on the improvement of the status of women in the Secretariat, contained in document E/CN.6/1999/5. It provides an update of statistical information which the Assembly had considered at its fifty-third session (A/53/376). This report is also before the Commission for information. Very briefly, since 1 January 1998, the increase in the percentage of women on appointments subject to geographical distribution has been marginal, rising only from 36.8 per cent to 37.1 per cent. There has, however, been some notable progress at the senior and policy-making levels, in particular at the D-1 level where the representation of women has increased from 24.3 per cent to 31.3 per cent over the same period.

The report also updates information on the recently approved special measures taken to achieve gender equality, including the introduction of gender action plans to improve accountability; on gender training and amendments to the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund regulations to protect the rights of spouses, including former spouses. After a period of over five years, we have finally been able to close the gap in information by issuing data on the situation of women at the Professional level and above for all agencies, funds and programmes. This will be available in a background paper.

In accordance with General Assembly resolution 50/166, the United Nations Development Fund for Women is providing the Commission with information on the operation of the Trust Fund on Violence against Women in document E/CN.6/1999/6.

As we observe the International Year of Older Persons "Towards a society of all ages", the report of the Secretary-General on gender and aging: problems, perceptions and policies contained in document E/CN.6/1999/3 is most opportune. The Commission may wish to take account of the general trend towards global population ageing, particularly as it affects women. Everywhere they are living longer than men; they are also more likely than men to be poorer in old age because of their involvement in home-making, childbearing, lower paid jobs and lack of social safety nets. Recognition of older women’s contribution, ensuring their economic security and improving health and care for the elderly must be major focuses of our work, particularly based on the latest demographic data and trends issued by the Population Division.

The Commission has before it a conference room paper containing an executive summary of The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development. The Survey examines the impact of current trends and policies on the economic and social situation of women with a special focus on women in developing countries. The Survey highlights negative trends in women’s employment and the impact of reduced expenditures for social services on women’s opportunities for education, health and child care. The Survey will contribute to the discussion on current goals and strategies of development as well as on emerging issues/future actions and initiatives. The Survey will be available for discussion in the Second Committee of the Assembly later this year and should be a valuable input to the full discussion on review and appraisal of the implementation of the Platform for Action to take place at the Third Preparatory Committee meeting next year.

Under item 3(a), the Commission has before it several documents for information. These are the report of the eighteenth and nineteenth sessions of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (A/53/38/Rev.1) and a conference room paper transmitting a summary of results of the twentieth session of the Committee.

Madam Chairperson,

The Commission on the Status of Women is always keenly interested in keeping abreast of progress in inter-agency cooperation on gender issues. The ACC Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality, which I chair on behalf of the United Nations, concluded its fourth session last Friday. This is the once-yearly opportunity for gender focal points from the entities of the United Nations system to discuss common strategies and approaches, and to review past achievements, and agree on new collaborative action for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and gender mainstreaming. May I briefly summarize some of the most pertinent outcomes of this year’s session.

We had a most valuable discussion of emerging challenges as seen from the perspective of the various entities. Issues of globalization and its gender-differentiated impact, questions of human security and social safety nets and of social cohesion, the gender implications of international trade and finance, women’s participation in decision-making, especially in science and technology and communications, and male involvement as partners with women in achieving women’s empowerment, were some of the most pressing issues identified as requiring our collective attention. Members also saw the rights-based approach as a critical framework within which to pursue gender equality. A particular focus was placed this year on ensuring that integrated follow-up to United Nations conferences and summits at the country level clearly reflects gender concerns. To that end, the Committee held a one-day workshop with resident coordinators and agency field representatives to strengthen the knowledge base around implementation of the Platform and gender mainstsreaming. A review of the United Nations system’s country-level implementation of the Platform for Action and gender mainstreaming will be a regular item on the Committee’s future agenda.

The Committee will continue its work intersessionally in a number of areas, including the collection of good practices, budget codes and financial monitoring systems, on methodologies for gender impact analysis and system-wide planning. The Committee’s collaborative activities have so far been fully absorbed within members’ regular workload. As some of our projects clearly exceed our available capacities, we have decided to assess the resource implications of various projects with a view to seeking extrabudgetary funding to bring them to a successful conclusion. Projects such as the creation of a data base and publication of good practices, the finalization of the review and recommendations concerning the gender focal point function, the compilation of a data base of gender training materials and guidelines for monitoring financial expenditures are expected to require such extrabudgetary funding.

Madam Chairperson,

We decided to continue the series of workshops for members of our Committee and of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Gender Equality. Following the workshop on gender mainstreaming in September 1997 in Geneva and the workshop on a Rights-based Approach to Gender Equality in October 1998 in Rome, we will propose to meet around the question of women’s empowerment in the context of human security. ESCAP has kindly offered to host such a workshop, tentatively scheduled for December 1999.

Madam Chairperson,

The ACC has agreed to prepare a statement as input into the preparations for the Special Session in 2000. On the basis of a draft to be elaborated by the Committee intersessionally, we hope that the ACC will be able to hold a substantive discussion at its second regular session of 1999 this Fall so that the statement would be available to this Commission when it meets as Preparatory Committee next year.

I am glad to report that, further to our meeting with the newly elected President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Fulci of Italy, a series of new arrangements aimed at improving coordination and cooperation between Bureaux of CSW and ECOSOC were introduced. As part of the improved work flow, the Bureaux will hold joint meetings; the first meeting took place on Friday, 27 February. Regular discussions will be held on joint follow up to decisions of ECOSOC and recommendations of CSW. I am convinced that this enhanced cooperation will significantly improve the efficiency of methods of work of both bodies.

I would like to draw your attention to an important addition to our programme resources which is integration of gender policy advisory services from the former DDSMS into the work of the Division for the Advancement of Women. This took place since the Commission last met. I am happy to report that although still not fully staffed, we have undertaken jointly with UNDP an evaluation of gender mainstreaming in several projects in Africa, a project on assisting six countries in Francophone Africa to prepare initial reports to CEDAW and a third project in Argentina.

The Commission will find information regarding the proposed programme of work in the field of advancement of women for the biennium 2000-2001 in conference room paper E/CN.6/1999/CRP.2. As you will see from the narrative, the subprogramme is oriented under the title of the Special Session: gender equality, development and peace. It is broken down as follows: (a) gender mainstreaming (b) policy analysis, (c) women’s human rights, (d) gender advisory services, (e) improving the status of women and (f) outreach. As the possible outcomes of the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Conference and the final decisions of the Special Session of the General Assembly on future actions and initiatives are not yet clear, some specifics would have to await the actual outcome of the Special Session.


Madam Chairperson,

May I also add that key documents on suggested approach as to the review and appraisal of the 12 critical areas and suggestions for further actions and initiatives will be introduced at the beginning of the Preparatory Committee on 15 March.

To sum up, Madame Chairperson, the balance sheet in a number of areas indicate the following:

Much legislation on gender equality and the elimination of violence against women has been enacted, but practical application is far from the norm:

A greater incidence of awareness of the growing phenomenon of violence against women particularly domestic violence exists but coping mechanisms are rare and precise data scant:

There is a failure to regard women as part of the solution to eradicating extreme poverty for them and that families, little has been done to incorporate them into decision-making of the process;

There is a worsening in women access to health care facilities, yet on balance we note a growing awareness of the inhumanity of traditional practices which are harmful to the health of women and girls such as female genital mutilation and the growing impact of HIV/AIDS particularly in Africa;

In the field of education despite the fact that women and girls are entering secondary and thesauri education more than ever before in some countries yet in others drop out rates particularly for adolescent girls continue to increase.

While more and more women enter labour market, their role in the informal sector particularly in agriculture is ignored and issue of their unpaid work unresolved;

In the area of decision-making there has been some regression overall in the political arena, with notable exceptions in a few countries, nevertheless on violence women’s critical importance in decision-making at the political, economical and social levels is increasingly being recognized

Madam Chairperson,

As the century draws to a close, we can look back at our work in the field of advancement of women, and be proud of what has been accomplished, in particular in policy-making, standard-setting and advocacy. Strategic action plans exist and myriad pilot projects have been inaugurated. Partnerships between Governments and civil society have been strengthened and the feeling of unity and purpose in achieving the goals of the Organization has grown measurable among entities of the United Nations system. On the other hand, as we look forward, we cannot pretend that the gap has been bridged between the injunctions of the Charter on gender and what has been achieved.

Daunting challenges must be overcome before full realization of gender equality is achieved. I am convinced that, working together in this session of the Commission, hearing all the rich experiences, and lessons learned from those having first-hand experience at the national level, we will reach this goal. My colleagues from the Division for the Advancement of Women stand ready to assist you in your work and cooperate with the Commission. I wish you a most productive session and one that will enhance the work of our first full Preparatory Committee in two week’s time.

Thank you.

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